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St. Lawrence County will update five-year plan to keep property taxes within state cap

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CANTON — With the books on 2013 closed, St. Lawrence County Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, has updated a five-year plan to keep property taxes within the state’s 2 percent cap.

Mr. Morrill was the chief architect of the plan that was used to sell state lawmakers on an sales tax increase for the county. In return for the enabling legislation, the county Board of Legislators lowered property taxes by the same amount they had gone up the previous year.

Mr. Morrill has tweaked the plan, which he has given to other lawmakers to review and discuss at the Finance Committee meeting in June.

“I think it’s extremely challenging to keep it at 2 percent with all we face. I think we could do it,” Mr. Morrill said. “I’ve been working on it since the first of the year. I didn’t want to finish it until 2013 was closed.”

The revised plan includes no changes to staff or programs. The fund balance remains flat throughout the life of the plan. The county’s previous five-year plan had the fund balance growing slowly but the county has taken some financial hits.

“Now that’s gone,” Mr. Morrill said.

The fund balance could grow if sales tax rebounds and if other factors fall into place.

The increase in the sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent, which took effect Dec. 1, increased overall receipts but a comparison of the total at the county’s previous percentage for this year’s first quarter showed a dip of 2.87 percent over the prior year.

“My concern is the Canadian shoppers,” said Mr. Morrill, who is the deputy executive director of the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority. “We’re seeing some lessened traffic across the bridge.”

For 2015, Mr. Morrill did not include an increase in the sales tax over this year’s budget. In subsequent years of the plan, he plugged in small increases.

He did not include any revenue from the state-tribal compact funds even though that money has started to flow again.

“That’s something we’ll have to discuss,” Mr. Morrill said. “If sales tax doesn’t go up and we don’t get the compact money, then we can’t spend any more. If the compact money comes through, that could be a big plus to us.”

For 2015, Mr. Morrill did not include any increases for contractual spending, which would include outside agencies such as Cornell Cooperative Extension and the county Chamber of Commerce.

In later years, he included increases of 1.87 percent, the rate of inflation.

Personal services increases of 3.28 percent include step and wage hikes, along with benefits.

The only thing Mr. Morrill has heard back so far is a question from the Board of Legislators office on whether 2019 needs to be included since the county is already through the first year of the plan.

“When you update a plan, you add a year,” Mr. Morrill said. “I don’t think there’s been any indication the 2 percent tax cap is going away.”

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